just a mom figuring it out one day at a time


As I write this, I hear the words of Aretha ringing in my ears- R-E-S-P-E-C-T… Lately there have been several instances where the issue of respect has come up. I had commented recently to CJ, that you need to be “respectful.” He looked at me and said, “I think I know what that means, but it seems like it means a lot of things.” This really made me start to think, and that opened up a discussion this week with my husband about what respect is and how exactly we need to teach it to our children.

How do you define respect? CJ was right; respect is multi-faceted and at times contradictory. When I think about it I think of: respect for self; respect for others; and respect for all things, living or otherwise, including our environment. Although tied to morality, respect is different. In an ideal world we would teach our children to be respectful consistently in all aspects of their lives, but the reality is that society as a whole does not do that. Sometimes to be respectful of one thing, it means being disrespectful to another. Immediately the civil rights movement comes to mind. Here was a movement to respect the dignity of people of different races, in a world that at the time did not itself deem it important. So how do we engrain the concepts of respect into our children? How do we teach them respect and how to navigate the contradictions?

To understand respect, a child needs first to respect himself and this I think is rooted in treating a child with value. He needs to be made to feel as if his voice matters, that he matters. We as parents can do this by speaking our children respectfully and engaging them, to a certain extent, about working through their behavior or misbehavior. It is asking them to identify the issue, and what was right or wrong. Although respect is one of those things that can be rooted in fear, I personally don’t feel that it is as effective or positive when it comes to children. We as parents need to be really “present” in the interactions with our children. Whether they are telling a story, or talking about their day, we need to make sure that the Blackberry chirping with our latest email does not preclude that interaction.We need to give our children the freedom to create and be children, and try our best to refrain from superimposing on them our goals and aspirations. By supporting a child’s decision to walk out of the house wearing every color under the rainbow, it shows that we value her ability to make decisions and perhaps suffer the consequences of those decisions.

How we as parents treat each other becomes an up-front and close model for how to treat and respect others. Whether we like it or not, we are always on center stage starring in our own personal reality show, where our children sit captive watching us. They absorb how as spouses we treat each, as well as our interactions with family members and them. These are the models that they use for their interactions. If they are in an environment where the parents don’t treat each other with respect, I have to wonder: What this is teaching the children? I think of the sons, learning by observing their fathers that it is acceptable to treat women as second class individuals. Then I think of the daughters who somehow rationalize that it is acceptable to be treated poorly because that is what they witnessed in their own home. However, overall with a little coaching and support from us, and other authority figures, they can learn positive patterns of behavior and interrelating. Sometimes it is a slow, rather painful process-full of repeated lessons, but I can only hope that some of it sinks in.

Once they have these two core lessons, the skills can be extended to respect for all life, things and the environment. These are much broader concepts, but still valuable and they too will require constant reinforcement and shaping. That then leaves the issues of contradictions, which perhaps is the most challenging.

The world is full of contradictions and contradictory behavior, which is much harder to digest and decipher for a younger mind. I remember when CJ started to play soccer and he refused to take the ball from the other team, “After all Mom, it was their turn with the ball and you have told me not to take things from other people.” I question how to enforce the lessons, when our children’s peers are not doing the same or society in general no longer remembers or chooses to ignore those actions which demonstrate respect. The image of being at a baseball game this summer appears. As we were walking to our seats, the National anthem began and we stopped dead in our tracts, turned towards the flag and removed our hats. We stood like statues with our hands over hearts, in a sea of people who continued to mill about oblivious. The irony there is this isn’t just some respectful “custom,” it is actually law. But, it then begged the question from our children, why are we doing this but other people aren’t?

At the end of the day it all boils down to we are a living reality show, because well… life is real. It is filled with contradictions and teachable moments. In each of these we as parents need to take a deep breath and use every opportunity that we can to continue to shape our children. To me the concept is daunting and at times very overwhelming. So I have broken down some quick ways to try and instill respect, where possible. Although I recognize that there are situations where not every one of these are possible or relevant, here they are:


1) Be present with my children and my interactions with them whenever possible.

2) Allow children freedom of expression.

3) Listen to my children’s concerns or opinions, they may be completely irrelevant in my “adult world” but they are very real to them.

4) Be on time. This shows respect for other peoples’ time and is so challenging with two small children, but still important.

5) Allow my children to make mistakes. Although I can coach them and offer suggestions, they need to make mistakes in “safe” environments so they learn.

6) Continue to enforce that my children treat me respectfully. This is so hard to do when you are worn out and tired, but it has to start somewhere.

7) Try to navigate the contradictions, explaining along the way why we make the decisions that we do. Sometimes we are faced with contradictions in which we have to prioritize, based on circumstance and importance, to make the best decision.

8) Sometimes you have to play what another child wants. By acknowledging and playing a variety of games or activities, you show your friends that their ideas are important too.

9) Realize that our resources have limits. We need to be good stewards of our resources whether they be our toys, allowance, or our environment.

10) Treat others as you would like to be treated. This is perhaps the best and oldest rule about respect.

This list is not exhaustive, just what comes to mind.

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